Who Are the Un-Famous Five Who Want to Lead Europe? One of Five People You Have Probably Never Heard of Will Probably Be the Next President of the European Commission. JONATHAN WALKER Introduces You to the Runners and Riders

The Journal (Newcastle, England), May 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Who Are the Un-Famous Five Who Want to Lead Europe? One of Five People You Have Probably Never Heard of Will Probably Be the Next President of the European Commission. JONATHAN WALKER Introduces You to the Runners and Riders


Byline: JONATHAN WALKER

IT was an historic night. For the first time, candidates for the European Presidency went head-tohead in a live, televised debate as they fought to win the support of hundreds of millions of voters.

Four hopefuls battled to become President of the European Commission, representing the EU's 500 million citizens.

The winner would set the policy agenda of the Commission, the only body able to propose new EU laws, and represent the EU on the world stage.

Of course, the EU is a democracy, and the debates took place in the run-up to elections, to be held tomorrow in the UK, and between then and May 25 in other countries.

This isn't a fantasy. The debates actually took place, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, on April 28.

There were four candidates - Jean-Claude Juncker of the centre-right European People's Party, Martin Schulz of the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party and Ska Keller, of the European Green Party. A fifth candidate for the post, Alexis Tsipras of the European Left, declined to take part.

And the European elections this week may decide who gets to be the President of the European Commission - officially the most powerful post within the European Union.

In practice, the EU is still controlled largely by its 28 member states, and it could be argued the most powerful single person in the EU is German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But either way, the Presidency of the European Commission, currently held by Jose Barroso, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, is a hugely important position.

So perhaps it was fitting that the candidates held a televised debate so that the voters - you and I - could decide who to pick for the job.

You will be forgiven if you missed it. The debate was broadcast on euronews, which is available on satellite and cable services in the UK, but not on Freeview. It seems to have passed other broadcasters by.

In the past, the President of the European Commission was appointed by national government leaders meeting together as the European Council, although the European Par-liament had to approve the decision.

But things changed when the Treaty of Lisbon came into effect in December 2009.

The treaty states that the European Council must "take account" of the results of the European Elections. This appears to mean that the political group that wins the most seats in the European Parliament later this month gets to choose the Commission President.

In that sense, the elections later this month are similar to our domestic General Elections, where we elect MPs and whichever party has the most MPs gets to lead the Government.

Certainly, that's how the European Parliament sees things.

But there is one complication. It's not clear that European Council members such as Mrs Merkel or David Cameron agree.

They've been dropping hints that they believe they still have the right to pick a candidate.

So rather than being the final word on the Presidency, the European Elections could be the prelude to a row between national government leaders and the European Parliament.

However, presenters and candidates taking part in the the 90-minute debate, handily available in full on the euronews YouTube channel, seemed in no doubt that the forthcoming elections would decide the Presidency. …

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